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Coronavirus diaries: it’s time to redefine the PM job spec

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Coding is out, so is PRINCE2, but social influence is rising up the list of must-have PM skills, writes Mike Wild

Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, national lockdowns and a global economy that is projected to contract more than during the 2008/09 financial crisis, you would be forgiven for questioning why anyone would be thinking about job specifications right now.

While some of us are busier than ever, others have the time to reflect on the big conversation kicked off by APM concerning the future of the project profession, not least the skills required to succeed in the future. Now more than ever, organisations are looking at their strengths and considering whether they have the right skills to move forward into the 2020s.

The new reality isn’t going away

The current crisis has highlighted the complexity of supply chains, market volatility and consumer uncertainty. One implication for organisations is the need to take stock of the skill sets they require to be more certain of delivering results. The sixth and final challenge paper in APM’s Projecting the Future series, published in April, offers an insight into changes in how we are working and the implications for the skills required.

Assuming that the pandemic fades in the second half of 2020 and containment efforts can be gradually unwound, the global economy is projected to grow. So, all of a sudden, having the ‘right’ skills takes on a new importance. The new reality created by the coronavirus crisis has fast-forwarded the emerging debate on the skills that will be needed in the project delivery profession.

So what goes onto the PM job spec and what comes off?

In at the top goes social influence, by which I mean the way project professionals alter the attitudes or behaviour of others. In the past we might have called this leadership or management, but it’s more than this. True social influence also encompasses working effectively as part of a team and effective stakeholder management.

Neither virtual teams nor stakeholders come under the direct control of the project professional, and so are not influenced through positional power, but by personal power through such factors as reciprocity and commitment.

Social influence marketing is a recent addition to the organisational marketing armoury and has seen organisations recruit individuals to create conversations with a brand’s customers. It is exactly the same connection with the project’s customers (we call them stakeholders) that project professionals need to attune themselves to. By understanding stakeholder needs, building trust and establishing a rapport, the project professional secures support and maintains working relationships.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting social media celebrities make good project managers (hey – I’ve seen Nextflix’s Fyre too), but we’ve all met people in business with whom we establish an immediate rapport, and who quickly establish their credibility. Getting the best from the people you’re working with is the type of social influence skill businesses will need – using your own skill and ability to influence people regardless of any formal authority.

PMs don’t need to write code… or have PRINCE2

Personal credibility seldom comes from strong technical skills, and that’s one thing to drop off your job spec, because project leads should not be required to write code or take technical decisions. Sure, it is helpful to have some level of technical understanding, but fundamentally project professionals must have the ability to talk to subject matter experts who know way more than they do.

In a technical environment the project leader’s role is to align and coordinate subject matter experts with the relevant project team members. The ability to do this is down to inherent personal qualities, not technical prowess.

If you happen to possess strong technical skills and use this as the basis of your project leadership, there is a whole rabbit warren of distracting side tracks just waiting to suck you away from the core job of managing others.

So, in your job spec, don’t ask for software development skills; look for personal credibility in a similar environment. The same can be said for PRINCE2 – that can come off the list. The PRINCE2 qualification does not automatically make you a good project manager. Many courses teach delegates how to pass the exam and not how to be a better project manager.

Explore the possible and push boundaries

The current crisis is testing the resilience of all businesses to the extreme. The same is true for employees, and to continue to deliver in challenging conditions requires a high degree of personal resilience. Even when we are past the current crisis, project professionals will still find themselves working in challenging circumstances and with higher stakeholder expectations.

To continue to deliver when times get tough requires the right mindset. Its not just a case of filling out the risk and issue log, but taking positive action, exploring the possible and pushing project boundaries. Stress and change are part of life. How we interpret and respond to events has a big impact on how stressful we find them, and this is often down to people’s life experience.

In many organisations project professionals are too cautious and risk-averse. They fear failure, which they perceive would bring cataclysmic results. When people fear failure, they fear everything collapsing, yet those who have the personal resilience to overcome a bump in the road know this simply isn’t true.

Doing something in the face of adversity brings with it a sense of control. Being able to demonstrate personal resilience in the face of tough conditions is a highly prized skill that provides the organisation a level of assurance that results will be delivered.

Developing and recruiting the right skills for project delivery teams is probably the most significant challenge for the profession right now. Future deliveries will depend entirely on getting it right.


Find out more about future skills for the project profession by downloading the latest Projecting the Future paper or join the big conversation and tell us what you think.

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